Boese, a name of some fame in internet circles, is no stranger to odd trivia, and so I was not surprised when Elephants on Acid was full of deliciously quirky bits of science during the last century or so (the first chapter, on galvanization, admittedly stretches back quite a few centuries further). I was surprised, however, at how well researched and well-cited the entire collection was. Boese’s work is impeccable, which perhaps makes the whole concept all that much funnier. From a doctor who drinks vomit to prove that yellow fever isn’t contagious, to an experiment proving once and for all that a baby’s poop smells better to its own mother than it does to everyone else, Elephants on Acid will surprise you with the sheer daftness or silliness of some scientific inquiry.
There is a darker side, of course, to the whole thing. The title experiment, for instance, ends with the early and unfortunate death of the elephant in question. Along with the experiments that measure the chemical composition of farts and the heartbeat of an orgasming housewife, there are also dark spots in scientific history, where zeal for knowledge overrode ethical choices. Or plenty of experiments that will dismay animal lovers. Or simply diminish your faith in humanity (cf. footnote 1).
While Boese provides plenty of exposition for each tale, they are hardly in-depth analyses, nor do they abound with contextual information, so don’t expect something out of a scholarly journal. Still, it’s a quick and fun read, and you’ll learn something despite any attempts to the contrary. Like many books of the trivia genre, Elephants on Acid succeeds admirably in its role as edutainment.